Monday, October 16, 2017

I Reviewed the Whole Extraordinary Sequence of Events

Friday night, my wife and I attended a performance of Baskerville put on by Insight Theatre Company in St. Louis.  As I mentioned last week, I wasn't sure what to expect; I'm not a big theater person and have never been to a Sherlockian play before.  That being said, my review is ready:

I loved it.

A little background before I get into this specific performance.  Baskerville was written by Ken Ludwig in 2015 and tells "The Hound of the Baskervilles" in a way that is true to the canon while adding in plenty of humorous bits.  Now, imagine HOUN and how many characters are in it.  Baskerville is put on by just five actors.  And, to me, this is what really impresses.

Insight Theatre's production is no different.  John O'Hagan plays Holmes alongside Kent Coffel as Watson.  Elliot Auch and Ed Reggi are billed as Actors 1 and 2 respectively, while Gwen Wotawa is listed as Actress 1.

As I watched the performance Friday night, I was struck at how similar I found O'Hagan's performance to Basil in "The Great Mouse Detective."  In a madcap story, he was the solid deductive genius, but you could sense his own energy right under the surface.  In a Q & A session with the audience after Sunday's performance, O'Hagan told the crowd that he modeled his Holmes after Basil Rathbone, and since Basil of Baker Street was modeled after the same actor, I'd say his version of The Great Detective hit home.


Although Kent Coffel has second billing as Dr. Watson, anyone that's familiar with HOUN knows that Watson plays just as large, if not larger, of a role than Holmes in this story.  Holmes is absent for much of the tale while Watson is off on the moor.  Coffel's Watson is the epitome of a stalwart companion in this performance and you can see why Holmes trusts him so and the audience feels that Henry Baskerville is much safer whenever Watson is around.

Director Maggie Ryan explained to the audience in Sunday's talk back session that Holmes and Watson were written to be the two steady roles in this comedy while the other three actors got to get all of the laughs.  An astute audience member (who may or may not have been Brad Keefauver) noted that it was a wise choice to keep the characters true to their original form, otherwise anyone familiar with the original stories would have a hard time with Holmes and Watson as comedic characters.

Elliot Auch gets two pretty substantial roles in this performance: Dr. Mortimer and Stapleton.  And even though his slot in the performance calls for 14 different characters (seriously!  14!), his version of Mr. Barrymore was my favorite.  Dr. Moritmer is a pretty straight forward character, but what he gets to do with Stapleton and Barrymore are entertaining takes on what could easily be cardboard cutout characters.  Stapleton does a lot of flouncing while Barrymore does a lot of limping.

Although it's listed as the Actor 2 role, Ed Reggi's performance should have been labeled "Henry Baskerville and some others."  Reggi spends the majority of his time as the Texas heir of Baskerville manor, and gives the role just enough Texas twang to make it funny without it being a parody of a loud American.  Reggi also gets to play a foul-mouthed Lestrade, and how he is able to pull off Sir Henry and Lestrade in the same climactic scene is one of the many highlights of the show.

I purposely saved Gwen Wotawa's performance for last.  Because it's the best.  My wife and I saw the show Friday night and talked about her role the entire way home.  I got to see Baskerville a second time on Sunday and was just as impressed.  Since Baskerville is such a popular play, I'm assuming the Actress 1 role is just as demanding in all other performances, and if so, the lady that takes it on has to be extremely talented.  Wotawa takes on at least 20 roles by my guess.  All of them have different dresses, wigs, accents, and sometimes genders.  The fact that one woman can differentiate so easily between Mrs. Hudson, Beryl Stapleton, Laura Lyons, Cartwright of the Baker Street Irregulars, and a score of others is no small feat!  But if you get to see this play, Wotawa's performance as Mrs. Stapleton is a true delight just for her reaction to Holmes asking if Charles Baskerville had a girlfriend.

I could go on and on about how much I loved this performance, but not today.  I was lucky enough to get to see it a second time Sunday afternoon because I am selling copies of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street in the lobby before and after the Sunday matinees.  Somehow, I also agreed to be part of the Sunday talk back sessions with the actors.  I had a few minutes to give a synopsis of my book to the crowd and answer one or two questions before the actors came back out on stage, and after that, I spent more time asking them questions than I did talking about my own book (Sometimes curiosity outweighs capitalism and stage fright).

I'm lucky enough to get to spend the next two Sundays with Insight Theatre and their take on the most popular Sherlock Holmes story.  Even though I already have two viewings under my belt, I'm looking forward to more.  Who knows, I may just end up a theater fan after all.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Whole Thing Had Been Fixed Up for Theatrical Effect

The play's the thing!

Okay, that's not a Sherlockian quote, but it sums up my current Sherlockian thoughts.  Because this Friday, I'm going to see my first Sherlockian play!  Being so deep into this hobby as I am, it's surprising that it's taken me over a decade to see the great detective on stage, but that dry spell ends in a few days.

Starting this week, the Insight Theatre Company in St. Louis is performing "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery" all throughout October.  I've heard snippets of reviews of Ken Ludwig's play here and there and expect a humorous retelling of The Hound of the Baskerville, but I purposely haven't looked for much more information on the play.  I want to be surprised by what this troupe puts out there.

Some of their previous performances have included "On Golden Pond," "The Wizard of Oz," "Death of a Salesman," and a bunch of titles that would probably be familiar to anyone with even the slightest theater knowledge, of which I'm lacking.  Although I would've LOVED to have seen their performance of "Charlotte's Web."  Love that book.

Sherlock Holmes has a rich tradition in the theater.  From Mary Morstan, Cadogen West and Josiah Amberly in Doyle's stories to William Gillette and Charlie Chaplin to Charlton Heston and Jeremy Brett to the modern day incarnations all across the globe, Holmes and the theater seem to go hand in hand.  If anyone follows Howard Ostrom on Twitter, you see just how many local productions of the Holmes stories are constantly being put on.

Why does Holmes endure in the theater tradition?  I'm about the last person to try and answer that.  My exposure to theater is extremely limited, but maybe I'll be an expert after this weekend.  Doubtful, but it gives me something to mull over this week anyway....

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

I’m Too Ill to Think

I've been sidelined by a pretty wicked stomach virus for the past few days, so this week's post will be a collection of short topics that may or may not be as coherent as a typical week's post.  Here we go...

First and foremost, Brad Keefauver teased that he has a podcast project in the works!  While he's not revealing much more than that, I expect it to have that trademarked Keefauver quality of thoughtfulness, quirkiness, knowledge and passion.

As I mentioned last week, I had my first book signing at Afterwords Books in Edwardsville, IL.  Thinking about it still brings a smile to my face.  One of the many highlights of that evening was being interviewed by a local newspaper (and making it to the front page!).  If you're interested, you can read my interview here.

I am currently reading Bill Mason's "Pursuing Sherlock Holmes" and enjoying it immensely.  Mr. Mason's book is a collection of different writings ranging from a musical toast to a fictional meeting between Mrs. St. Clair and Holmes after the events of The Man With the Twisted Lip.  Two chapters that I really enjoyed were his analysis of Holmes' dressing gown and the parallels between Baron Gruner and Count Dracula.  That second topic may sound far-fetched, but Bill makes an argument that isn't nearly as outlandish as you would think.  I also had the privilege of meeting Bill this summer at the Nerve and Knowledge symposium in Indiana, and as well as being a great Sherlockian writer, he is a genuinely nice guy!

This month, the Insight Theatre Company in St. Louis is performing Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.  I have been looking forward to this for months since I first heard about it.  If you are in the St. Louis area in October, check it out!

I also recently finished "Sherlock Holmes on the Roof of the World" by Thomas Kent Miller.  I'm not a big pastiche reader because I find it hard to read other people's take on the Watsonian voice (which is a big reason I narrated The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street in the third person).  But Mr. Miller's book takes place during the great hiatus, so his narrator is one from an H. Rider Haggard tale.  If you enjoy quick, adventurous reads, I would recommend checking this one out.

That's it for me.  Back to the couch.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Daring Speculations of the Writer

Brad Keefauver and I have been going back and forth this past week, debating if Hatty Doran of the Noble Bachelor was truly a villain or not (spoiler: she was).  But something even bigger happened this week also, so it's time to change topics, and I will leave with his Thor quotes and republican straw men for now.

Friday night was my first book signing for The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.

You guys, I can't even describe how awesome it was!

Deep breath.  Okay, begin at the beginning.

When I first announced my contract with MX Publishing on Facebook, my local independent bookstore immediately said they wanted to schedule an author signing.  This store is great.  Afterwords Books in Edwardsville has been my go to store for the past 6 years or so when I first discovered it.  Since then they've moved three times (once or twice I got conscripted into helping move those boxes of books), and every year Afterwords has become more and more important to me.  My daughter's three year old pictures were even taken in the store!

Fast forward from that photo shoot to last Friday night.  My wife, daughter and I arrived at Afterwords at 6:00 for the 6:30 event.  After a few minutes of set up talk with LuAnn, the owner, a reporter from the local paper showed up to interview me about my book.  (Side note, this is BY FAR the coolest part of the whole thing for my daughter.  IT'S THE NEWSPAPER!)  I wasn't sure what to expect from the interview, but when she started asking me about Mary Morstan and Lestrade's roles in my book, it was clear this reporter knew her stuff.  It was a real pleasure to talk with her and I will be sure to link to the story once it's up.

And there was cake!

By 6:30, I was seated at my table with a stack of books and a reliable pen, and before I knew it, there was A LINE!  Seriously, enough people came out to buy my book that they had to wait in line to talk to me.  Insane.  Some of my current and former fifth graders came by, which was especially awesome because they HAVE to spend all day with me.  The fact that they drug their parents out to see me again was really meaningful.  And, I got those kids into a bookstore.  Double points.

A lot of the people in attendance were friends and acquaintances, and I think a little part of them is pretty happy to not see me post the event in their Facebook feeds anymore.  Every time I looked up to see another familiar face, it was another jolt of happiness.  It really felt like a homecoming picnic, except everyone was there for books, and a book that I wrote, to boot!

Afterwords did a great job promoting the event, and there were other people there who I'm not Facebook friends with or related to in attendance as well.  It was really nice to meet some other local Sherlock Holmes fans.  I made a few pitches for The Parallel Case of St. Louis, but we will have to see if we get any new recruits.  One memorable exchange I had was with a guy who brought his seventh grade son, and the son started asking me about getting a book published.  About halfway through our conversation, I realized that I was semi-qualified to be giving this guy advice on following a dream he had to write a book.  Whoa.

Of course I was happy to see people buying my book.  But seeing people carry stacks of books and other merchandise up to the register was just as great.  I'm a big believer that it's important to support local businesses that are meaningful to us.  MX Publishing has a great program where independent bookstores get access to titles 2-3 months before Amazon and Barnes & Noble do.  I would really encourage you to get your local independent bookstore to look into stocking some MX titles.  Because you know you're not the only Sherlockian in your town, and buying Sherlockian books from a local independent is a win-win for everyone.

As the night wound down, we realized that we had sold out of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street!  Afterwords had their stock, and I brought a box of books to the event, just in case we needed one or two extra.  We needed a few more than one or two.  I have five more book signings scheduled over the next month and half, but I can't imagine anything topping this one.  My local bookstore and my Sherlockian hobby coming together for a night was evidently no ordinary party.

Friday, September 22, 2017

In Defense of My Prosecution of Hatty Doran

Chivalry is not dead.  Brad Keefauver has proven that this week in his post defending Hatty Doran.  I will admit that he makes a valid point, calling me out on my use of the word "vile."  I blame that on the three cups of coffee I had before sitting down to write that day.

But I stand by my sentiment.  Hatty Doran was a villain.

Let's look at Brad's points one by one, shall we?

"I am rather proud of Hatty, a fellow American who stayed loyal to her man under the tremendous pressures of British society"

As I pointed out in my previous post, Hatty Doran hardly stayed true to her man.  She reads a report in the newspaper that he might have been killed by Apaches and she is suddenly okay entertaining British lords who come a'calling.  Does this sound like a loyal wife?

"Sherlock Holmes did not invite just anyone to dinner at 221B Baker Street.  And yet he invited Hatty Doran Moulton and her husband. Did he invite Flora Millar? No. Did he invite Inspector Lestrade? No. Did he invite his own brother, Mycroft? No, no, no."

I'm going to handle this one in reverse order.  Mycroft isn't even in this story, Brad!  Plus, he has his rails and he runs on them.  Lestrade and his pea coat are being insufferable in this story.  And Flora  Millar?  Let's just say she's no New Jersey opera singer...

As for Holmes inviting Hatty and her husband to Baker Street, that's not really an accolade.  Let's look at some of the other guests that have graced Baker Street:
Jefferson Hope
James Windibank
Grimsby Roylott
Professor Moriarty
Charles Augustus Milverton
Shinwell Johnson

Well respected members of society, all of them.

Oh, and there's this quote from Holmes: "I should not sit here smoking with you if I thought that you were a common criminal."  Holmes may be the last court of appeal, but he's not above spending time with villains.

"I could draw in Lord St. Simon's testimony of her strength, courage, and nobility."

You could, but then you would also draw in his rebuke of her once her true character has been revealed.

"I say thee nay!"

I don't know what this means.

Well, yeah, there is that.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

And Now as to the Villains

Quick sidenote before we get started:  I was interviewed by one of my favorite Sherlockians, Leah Guinn, on The Well Read Sherlockian last week about The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.  You can read the interview on her site, here.

I missed last week's deadline due to the fact that I also needed to put up a blog post recapping The Parallel Case of St. Louis's August meeting.  Seems how each blog post takes me an hour to an hour and a half to do, and that my family wants to spend time with me for some reason, it just wasn't in the cards to get two posts up last week.

I've spoken about my love for my local scion here, but man I love those meetings!  We talk about current events in the Sherlockian world, and then we get right down to the story.  You would think with these stories being over 100 years old, they wouldn't evoke such debate, but here we are, still reading the Baker Street Journal, attending conferences and meetings, and posting our thoughts on blogs and social media.

A conversation I've been having with other Sherlockians quite a bit lately is on the topic of villains.  The Occupants of the Empty House in southern Illinois just had a special meeting to debate who the worst villain of the canon was, and if I had been there after reading "The Noble Bachelor" like I did for the Parallel Case meeting this month, I might have argued for Hatty Doran to be on that list.

Because Hatty Doran sucks.

Sure, she's not Professor Moriarty or Grimsby Roylott, but she's a vile person.  Here's a quick review of the story:  Robert St. Simon is getting married to Hatty Doran.  She drops her bouquet at the wedding, some dude in the audience hands it to her, and St. Simon and Doran get married.  The new couple go to the wedding breakfast, St. Simon's ex-girlfriend shows up and makes a scene, and Hatty disappears.  Holmes finds her and her REAL husband (spoilers) and everything is resolved at a dinner at Baker Street.

Obviously, there's more to the story.  And I would strongly recommend you reread the Conan Doyle original, because he writes a great tale here without the reader ever leaving the confines of Baker Street.  But what I want to focus on here is the real villain, Hatty.

Over the course of this story, Hatty Doran is presented with many choices and she always chooses the one that's easiest for her and causes pain to others.  Her father says she can't marry Frank Moulton when she's a young woman.  Instead of trying to talk to her father or have Frank meet with him, she sneaks off and does it anyway.

Then her new husband goes off and she learns that he PROBABLY died in an Apache attack.  Well, since she never told her dad that she's married, he introduces her to an English nobleman on vacation in San Francisco.  After a courtship, Hattie and dad head off to England for for her to be married to the nobleman.  And the only proof that she has that her husband is dead is a newspaper article.

Has this woman never heard of fake news?
Maybe these slights against her father and husband can be swept under the rug due to the power fathers had over their daughters and the lack of fact checking in the press during this time.  But then comes her wedding day.  Hatty sees Frank among the crowd before her wedding starts.  Here is where all sympathy I could have for her goes out the window.  She sees her husband (who is NOT DEAD) in the church and she goes through with a fraudulent marriage anyway.

Seriously, let that sink in.  That's crap.  And then she runs away!  Here is a direct quote from Hatty: "I know I ought to have spoken to Lord St. Simon, but it was dreadful hard before his mother and all those great people. I just made up my mind to run away and explain afterwards."  But she didn't explain!  She let St. Simon's ex-girlfriend take the wrap for murdering her and when Frank tells her they should let St. Simon know that she ran off with her rightful husband, she says no thanks.

And THAT is why I think Hatty Doran should be on a list of worst villains in the canon!  At no point in this story does she make a choice that is for the good of others, only what's convenient for her.  The Baker Street Babes had a series of articles that ran for a while called Femme Friday, where they covered kick ass Sherlockian female characters from all versions of the canon.  You know who's not on that list?  Hatty Doran.

“It can’t be a coincidence,” [Sherlock Holmes] cried, at last springing from his chair and pacing wildly up and down the room.

No, Mister Holmes, I don't think it is.   A truly villainous woman indeed.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

I Would Call Your Attention Very Particularly to Two Points.

This week's post is a twofer.  After two big weeks, my book release and the Nerve and Knowledge event, life has gotten back to normal as a Sherlockian.  I wanted to highlight two smaller, but still significant events in my life as a Sherlockian this week.

First up, is the current book I'm reading, From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Bostrom.  Now, if you're reading this blog, you probably follow some Sherlockian news, so you've probably heard of this book, if you don't already own it yourself.

That's because this book is important.

I am about a half of the way through it,  but can already see how this book will become a new cornerstone of Sherlockian research.  I would imagine people who read William Baring-Gould's Annotated Sherlock Holmes felt the same way when it came out.  What Mattias Bostrom has done in his new book is absolutely phenomenal.  He has taken years of research and stories and combined them into a single volume, adding a lot of information that was new to me along the way.

This book covers everything from Arthur Conan Doyle's life all the way up to the BBC Sherlock and everything in between.  Like I said, I'm about halfway through, and Conan Doyle has died by this point (sorry if that's a spoiler), and Bostrom is taking the reader through the formation of the Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes' beginnings in radio, and the Conan Doyle family events at the time.  This isn't just a Conan Doyle biography or a retrospective of Holmes in entertainment or a history of us fans of the Great Detective.  It's all that and more.  Every Sherlockian should own this book.


On a different note, I spent Saturday travelling across the Mississippi River from my home in Illinois to visit a handful of St. Louis bookstores in hopes of getting them to carry The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.  Time will tell if my sojourn will pay off financially, but it totally paid off in a different way.

One of the bookstores I visited was The Book House.  Now, I usually only shop at my local independent, Afterwords Books in Edwardsville (It's great, you should totally check it out!), but The Book House is a great used bookstore.  Sliding ladders, stacks of books in front of shelves of books, and a whole section dedicated to just Sherlock Holmes!  I was treated to discussions with two employees there, one of whom was reading A Study in Scarlet for the first time.  I felt obliged to warn him about the jarring sensation he'll feel when he gets to the Mormon part.

So often in life we tread the same path, no matter how good of a path it might be.  While Afterwords will always be MY bookstore, The Book House has earned itself the designation of a store worth visiting, also.  If I hadn't made it a point to search out different bookstores, I never would've known about this delightful place.  It makes me wonder, as Sherlockians, what are we missing out there because we want to keep treading the same path?